December 15, 2010

Wednesday notebook: Amukamara glad he stayed

Just like defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, when Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara looks at his decision to come back for his senior season he knows he made the right call.

Like Suh, Amukamara was an All-Big 12 selection as a junior and many draft experts thought he should've looked at coming out early. A year ago Amukamara watched Suh go through the same decision process where he could've been a mid to late first round guy coming out early or stay anther year to help raise his stock.

As it stands Suh made the right call and was the No. 2 pick in the draft by the Detroit Lions and it appears Amukamara is headed down the same path. Most draft experts currently have him as the No. 1 overall cornerback on the board and a top five pick overall.

"I just didn't feel like I knew everything about playing cornerback (last year) and I learned a lot under Coach Sanders," Amukamara said. "I think I benefited a lot and I think I learned more about the game and the scheme. I think it benefited me a lot."

Another player on the team that faces a similar decision to Amukamara this year is junior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

The early word now is Dennard plans to stay for his senior season at NU, but you never know until he gets word back from the NFL Advisory Board. If Dennard hears the words "first round" that could make things interesting.

"If he hears (first round) I think he'll probably be looking into it more," Amukamara said. "I think the term 'lockout' though probably scares him too.

"I shared my two cents with Alfonzo (Dennard), because I learned from Suh when I saw him come back. I said 'hey, why not.' Alfonzo is a smart guy and he sees that too. I'm sure that's something he's considering too."

The next decision for Amukamara is if he'll play in the prestigious Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., which is the premier draft all-star game.

Amukamara said several of his Husker teammates could have the opportunity to play down there as well. To Amukamara's knowledge, wide receivers Niles Paul and Mike McNeill, running back Roy Helu and offensive lineman Keith Williams have all been given early invites to the Senior Bowl.

"I'm definitely looking into it," Amukamara said. "The Senior Bowl seems like an amazing opportunity to play against the best in the nation and I'm definitely looking into it."

"It is like another game just to showcase your talents in front of all the NFL guys that are going to be there and just to do it against all the best players in the nation."

-Sean Callahan

Wednesday bowl practice takes
2011 schedule complete: Nebraska filled the final open date on its non-conference schedule next season on Wednesday, as it announced it would play host to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Sept. 3, 2011, in the season opener. The Huskers will now play Chattanooga, Fresno State and Washington at home to open the season and then travel to Wyoming to wrap up their non-conference schedule.

Huskies want revenge: As would be expected, Washington is eager to get a Holiday Bowl rematch with a Nebraska team that handed it a 56-21 blowout loss in Seattle back in September, and the Huskies aren't downplaying the revenge factor. "I think really the main thing for us is it's an opportunity to get revenge on them a little bit I guess because they came in here and they whooped us pretty good,'' UW safety Nate Williams said. "That's really all I can say about that. I think we'll definitely end up having a big chip on our shoulder and that will naturally just give us a little bit of motivation."

Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini was not available to media following Wednesday's practice, so no official injury report was given. However, it appears the Huskers are overall pretty healthy as they continue to prepare for the bowl game.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two hour half-padded practice inside the Hawks Championship Indoor Facility on Wednesday. It was the Huskers' fourth practice since last week's Big 12 Championship game loss to Oklahoma. They'll come back with two more practices this week on Friday and Saturday before getting a couple of days off for the holidays.

Bo's bowl approach

As Nebraska continues their bowl preparations for Washington, head coach Bo Pelini has a different approach to designing his practice schedule, but it's proven to be very effective.

In the seven years Pelini has been around college football as a head coach and a coordinator, his teams are 6-1 in bowl games.

Pelini's December approach is different from other schools in that he doesn't over practice his team or run a "mini boot camp" before the bowl. Instead he gives his team some down time to get mentally and physically fresh on the field and it's resulted in strong showings in the bowl games over the years.

All together NU will have just six practices in Lincoln before the team takes a short break for Christmas and arrives to San Diego on Dec. 25. NU held two light workouts last week and they'll install their entire game plan for Washington this week over the course of four practices. They'll have a total of three practices in San Diego to go over the bowl game plan again.

"This is kind of our initial prep for Washington," secondary coach Marvin Sanders said. "We are trying to get our majority of our stuff that we plan to put in this week, because down at the bowl site things can get a little hectic. We are going to try to get the majority of the work in this week, then clean it up next week when we get down to the bowl game."

Sanders added in order to make Pelini's bowl approach successful, it requires a maximum effort level from the players and he feels like they've gotten that this week.

"Bo (Pelini) dictates a lot of what we do on how hard these young men practice," Sanders said. "He tells them 'we won't practice a lot if you go hard.' We want to get done what we need to get done and we want to be the most prepared we can be, but the effort level has to be there. If the effort level is not there, than we're going to practice more."

-Sean Callahan

Henery, Amukamara humbled by All-America honors

Amukamara and senior kicker/punter Alex Henery received one of the biggest individual honors in all of college football this week when they were both named first-team All-Americans by the Associated Press.

With their selections, they became Nebraska's 108th and 109th first-team AP All-Americans overall and the 94th and 95th different players to receiver the honor, respectively.

Amukamara and Henery were also the first NU teammates to be named first-team selections in the same season since 2003 when safety Josh Bullocks and punter Kyle Larson were both made the team.

On Wednesday, the pair talked about their honors with local media for the first time. While both have been showered with their share of praise over the course of the past few years, Amukamara and Henery were both honored and humbled by their latest accolades.

"I'm very flattered because that was definitely one of my goals coming into the season, was to become an All-American," Amukamara said. "I'm just happy for Nebraska and just to be an All-American at Nebraska and be involved in the same category as the other guys on the wall."

For Henery, the selection would seem to be retribution of sorts after being passed on by a number of postseason awards and All-American and all-conference teams. Never one to get to up or down about much of anything, though, the Omaha native was just happy to be acknowledged.

"It's a big honor just to be up there with those guys," Henery said. "It was kind of cool. I didn't really expect it."

While Henery would only downplay it, many fans were upset when Nebraska's all-time leading scorer and the most accurate kicker in college football history was left off the list of finalists for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker.

Even when Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey walked away with the award last week, Henery said he wasn't bothered in the least about being snubbed.

"I didn't even watch the (awards) show myself, so it's okay," he said.

- Robin Washut

Other Huskers weighing NFL futures

Amukamara wasn't the only Husker who talked about playing football at the next level on Wednesday, as Henery and senior defensive back Eric Hagg were also asked about taking their games on to the NFL.

Though it might not have shown in the Groza Award presentation, Henery is widely regarded as the best kicker in all of college football, and the fact that he's almost just as good of a punter hasn't hurt his draft stock either.

He's a shoe-in to have his named called during this April's NFL Draft, but Henery said he hasn't put any thought into playing professionally just yet.

"I won't really start that process until after the bowl game," he said. "Everything with that I'll just push off until the end and not wonder what if. It will all take care of itself."

Hagg is another player with a very good chance of playing on Sundays next year, but his situation isn't quite as much a given as Amukamara or Henery's.

While he certainly improved his stock over the course of the season by making numerous big plays in big games and tying for the Big 12 lead in interceptions (5), Hagg said he's not sure what his football future will hold.

"I really don't know what's going to happen," Hagg said. "It could give you anxiety attacks, so I try not to think about it much."

In particular, Hagg said he wasn't sure exactly where he would fit physically in the NFL. At 6-2, 210, the Peoria, Ariz., native has the ability to play a number of positions, whether it be safety, cornerback or even linebacker.

He said he had no idea where he would be asked to play, and he plans on sitting down with NU's coaches after the bowl game to get some advice.

"I have no clue," Hagg said. "I want to ask the coaches here soon what's going and stuff, but we've got to worry about this next game first. That's one thing I think kind of hinders me, but I think it could help me at the same time. I really don't know what's going to happen."

- Robin Washut

David handling newfound attention well

Since he first arrived on campus for the start of fall camp, junior linebacker Lavonte David's has steadily become a familiar name on the national level with every huge individual performance he's put up.

For his efforts, David was named a second-team AP All-American and the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, and he's started to be mentioned in the same breathes as Amukamara and others as potential NFL talent.

The rise in attention hasn't gone unnoticed by the Miami, Fla., native, as he usually gets a few phone calls from back home whenever his name comes up on ESPN or other national college football shows.

"People call me from back home and tell me what's going on, and one they call me I'll go and take a peak at it," David said. "But it's not a big deal to me. I just love the game of football."

The good news is that the majority of the calls, mostly from his older brother and close friends, are also making sure David keeps a level head as the spotlight continues to shine upon him.

"A lot of guys back home are older than me, and everybody kind of looks up to me even though I'm the youngest," he said. "That's kind of like a big thing for me, so I just try and take that and stay humble."

The other good news, for the Huskers at least, is that David said he has no intention of testing the waters in the draft this year. Even more than football, he said the biggest reason he came to Nebraska was to graduate.

"I came here to get a degree," David said. "That's the first thing I came here to do, so that's No. 1 for me."

Few newcomers came in with as much hype as David, ranked the No. 7 overall juco player in the country last year, and few players have been able to live up to the expectations the way he has.

"It's been a good year," David said. "I just try to take my game up every week. I just try to go harder and harder, practice harder and harder and do whatever I can to get better. Things can always get better. That's what I like about the coaches, is they never let you settle for less."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Sanders said that he's seen no signs of a hangover from the guys since their loss in the Big 12 Championship game.

"I think the guys are back, this team has been resilient all year," Sanders said. "They've taken on our head coach's mentality that they understand they weren't happy about that game. We are excited now to go back down to the bowl game to play Washington now."

***During NU's award banquet this past Saturday night, senior cornerback Anthony West said Pelini showed quite a bit of emotion when talking about what the senior class has meant to him over the last three years.

"(Bo Pelini) cares about his players and that goes both ways because his players care about him," West said. "It's a mutual respect between him and the players and all the coaching staff. We all feel the same way. It really is like family here."

***Growing up in San Diego, nobody is happier about NU's return trip to the Holiday Bowl than West.

"I ended my high school career in that same stadium and I'm ending my college career there too," West said. "It's meaningful in so many different ways. It's Nebraska's last game as a Big 12 school and it's in my home town."

***Even with all the postseason recognition Nebraska's defense has received the past two season, Amukamara said the Blackshirts were still far from reaching their full potential as a unit.

"I think we're still restoring the order," Amukamara said. "Coach Bo and the whole defensive staff are doing a great job with us and making us work and establishing the culture, and as you can see, a lot of us are reaping the benefits from it."

***Asked what NFL players he enjoys watching the most on Sundays, Hagg said Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was easily his favorite defensive player to watch.

"He's a beast," Hagg said.

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